REVIEW: Brighton Early Music – Legal Aliens

Brian Butler October 28, 2018

It’s a time of heightened tension in England. Foreign spies are everywhere plotting acts of treason. England is at odds with Europe.

IMMIGRATION is strictly controlled and foreigners treated with suspicion and even violence. Sound familiar ? Well the time is mid 16th century not now.

The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, playing in the fantastic surroundings of St Martin’s Church in Lewis Road, Brighton, bring alive the music that would have delighted the ears of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I snow their royal court festivities.

But the dissident immigrant musicians from Italy, Spain and the Low Countries were also clever to adapt to English tastes and fashions.

While other immigration was tricky, the musicians were welcomed in court and cathedral alike with open arms.

In their widely varying programme of 30 pieces, the Ensemble were a notable early concert in the Brighton Early Music Festival currently running in the city.

The bright tones of the Cornett – an early form of wind instrument pre-dating the clarinet and oboe, are matched here in this stunning concert by the strong sonorous melodies of the sackbuts – an early form of trombone, accompanied by the delicate and intricate sounds of the virginals – a lightweight harpsichord.

The central feature of the night was the music of the Bassano family, imported by Henry VIII. From dances to choral religious music and a wonderfully miserable-sounding love song, the combination of tones from the 7 musicians is outstanding.

There was even a piece by King Henry himself, who was an accomplished composer in his own right.

And such was the important influence of the Europeans that English composer John Cooper even changed his name to Giovanni Coperario to fit in with the vogue.

Robin Bigwood on portable organ and virginals shows amazing dexterity in a number of  rather more intimate solos from the period, and Gawain Glenton is an informative and entertaining compère as well as excelling on the Cornett.

Connor Hastings, Nicholas Perry, Emily White, Tom Lees and Adrian France make up the rest of the ensemble, in this the group’s 25 anniversary year.

It’s delightful music that conjures up the glory that was court life and the majesty of church settings.

The Brighton Early Music Festival runs at venues throughout the city until November 11. More details at

Review by Brian Butler